Music Feature

Film Review: The Five-Year Engagement

by Piers Marchant
A rom-com bereft of the rom.

Dir. Nicholas Stoller
Score: 5.2

We don't ask much of our big studio genre flicks: Horror movies should scare us at least a little; comedies should make us belly laugh once or twice; and romantic comedies should make us care enough about the two protagonists to want to see them get back together at the end. Unfortunately, Jason Segel's new film -- co-written with director Nicholas Stoller -- fails at this most basic and crucial function. By the time the film builds to its emotional climax, you want to see the two former lovers stay the hell away from one another and move on.

We start out in San Francisco, where sous chef Tom (Segel) proposes to sociology grad student Violet (Emily Blount) on the roof deck of the fancy downtown restaurant where he works. Things quickly go downhill, however, when Violet is offered a chance to do a post-doc at Michigan, and takes Tom along with her, forcing him to give up a potentially career-making move into his own restaurant. There, the couple descend into various levels of discomfort with one another. Violet meets her boss, the wily Winton (Rhys Ifans), and a gaggle of other perfectly lovable post-docs, played by Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, and Kevin Hart, instantly bonding with her new academic peers. Meanwhile, bereft of the types of fine dining establishments he's used to working in, Tom is forced to work as a sandwich maker at a Jewish deli, and starts growing his sideburns out like X-Men arch nemesis Sabretooth. He also takes to hunting, wearing a huge pink bunny suit (don't ask) and totally suppressing how much he hates living there. As these things usually go, there are rising tensions, a break-up and then a possible sweet reconciliation, with a totally improbable wedding ceremony in the offing.

In other words, it's your standard rom-com formula; only the two main characters never really seem to fit together. Despite their endless proclamations of love, as written, you simply never believe in their relationship. Part of this is because Tom changes so weirdly and drastically over the course of the film -- the bunny suit is but one of his levels of madness -- it makes no sense that she would choose to stick it out with him, but there's also a similar, fundamental problem with virtually all the characters that populate the film. They might make for a good laugh line or two -- comedic vets Brian Posehn and Chris Pratt get some solid moments in particular -- but none of them seem to be from the same movie, exactly. The chemistry is all wrong, and I suspect the still-novice screenwriters had no means of fixing it other than to keep pushing everyone together and hoping it would somehow work out. It's a shame, because there is more care put in to giving the characters full lives than you normally see in rom-coms, it's just that few of these more full lives actually mesh with one another. No relationship is terribly believable, least of all the one between Tom and Violet. It's a romantic comedy that would have been much better off going for bittersweet morsels than just another Hershey's kiss.

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